Diminishing marginal utility of voters

Greg Mankiw reveals that in 2000, he penned an op-ed voicing the apparently taboo/unpatriotic notion that if you don't know what you're voting for, you probably shouldn't vote.

As Greg makes clear, this isn't an exhortation against voting (he says he's a voter, and he'll do it again) but a reminder that people have limited time to devote to learning about any given subject, so it makes a certain sense to specialize by voting on what you know, and not voting on what you don't. As rational ignorance progresses outward from the special interest voter, there are plenty of people who have no particular knowledge of the question at hand and thus rationally don't vote at all. The flip side to this is that for any given question, it is not obvious that higher turnout either reflects more informed interest or a greater chance at arriving at a 'correct' answer.

Not a large jump from that is to conclude that, more often than not, higher turnout leads to an inferior decision; if people are motivated to vote for tribal reasons (red state/blue state, or shi'a/sunni) versus 'who is the better person for the position' or 'what position is better given the stakes', then ceteris paribus you get worse outcomes with higher turnout.

Thus the low voter participation rate of the US is more likely a *good* thing than a bad thing, and why parties bereft of ideas emphasize turnout, turnout, turnout[1], to swamp out the higher value self-motivated & educated voter with tribal votes. I know I've advocated voting before, but thats also to my friends and intellectual colleagues, who due to selection bias if nothing else are all smarter than me and routinely pwn me in games of Puerto Rico and Settlers. But I doff my hat to those who, being uninterested in the question, don't attempt to answer it.

(footnote below)

fn1. It used to be the institutionally corrupt Democrats were supposedly helped by higher turnout, since they relied on the ignorant voter / DMU theory, but now the intellectually bankrupt Republicans are relying on 'GOTV'. QED?

Share this